Monday, 4 January 2010

4th January... 8,000 miles

You might not know his name, but you have definitely seen his face.

In 1952, Ernesto Guevara, better known as “Che” Guevara, set off on 4 January on a road trip that was destined to change his life forever. Spanning over 8,000 miles across South America (including Argentina, Chile and Peru), Che and his friend (Alberto) covered part of the journey on a 500cc Norton motorcycle, "The Mighty One", a name quite unbefitting of the decrepit vehicle.

Through his months of travelling, Che was exposed to firsthand accounts of poverty, exploitation and political repression suffered by the ordinary people in Latin America. It was these experiences that led to his “awakening” (as described by biographers), shaped his political ideology and most definitely spurred him on throughout his revolutionary life.

A doctor by profession, Che Guevara eventually transcended into a Marxist revolutionary and led Cuba to victory in a revolution in 1956. His government expropriated land from the “absentee landlords” (in his own words) and redistributed them to peasants who had worked and toiled on the land instead. He promoted education rigorously and was successful in raising the literacy rate in Cuba to over 90%.

Yet, as if all heroic tales must suffer a downside, what Che did after Cuba was less than flattering. Whether it was the contortion of his morals and ideals or that humans are simply untamable by nature, Che soon earned a bad name for the harsh punishment he imposed on those who defected from his beliefs. He was also considered an extremist in his politcal pursuits. As I see it, his greatest fault lies in his assumption that men are motivated by morals and not anything else; materialsim for example. Because of his obstinance in this respect, a rift gradually developed between Che and his counterparts and his subsequent revolutionary attempts were doomed to failure. Finally, he was captured and executed in Bolivia, with his body buried in an unmarked mass grave. A tragic ending to his life of 39 years.

Today, Che has become one of the popular icons of modern consumerism. His portrait is printed on posters, calendars, T-shirts and other fashion accessories. What does he really represent to the young people who adore him? A revoluntionary? A cult? Defiance? Counter-culture symbolism? Perhaps, a million different things to a million people.

To me, Che is an emblem of courage, a real life example of how a person, motivated by compassionate, is capable of doing extraordinary things. His political inclination may be controversial and I am most certainly not a marxist sympathiser, but his humanity, his dissent towards inequality, injustice and exploitation and his selflessness are qualities I admire the most.

I often remember Che Guevara when I travel, not because I am inspired to lead a revolution, but I have hoped to be enlightened on my trips, just as Che did during his motorcycle journey. And with that, I may be able to touch the lives of a few (if I am lucky enough) and become a better person.

八千里路云和月. A verse from the poem 满江红written by岳飞now rings in my head. What is the bearing here... an expression of distance I guess. I wonder when and where my 8,000 miles will begin. 4 January 2010... it is definitely not today.

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